Local experts have called for more education and increased checks to ensure tragedy is never repeated
UAE shopping malls’ fire and life safety systems should undergo a through revision following the tragic fire in Doha’s Villaggio Mall, which killed 19 people, including 13 young children, local experts have said.
While all malls in the UAE are subject to annual inspections and certification, local fire and safety have said that authorities should ensure that all equipment is regularly maintained and mall management brought to task if they fail to meet required standards.
“This Qatar experience will result in major changes,” said Barry Bell, managing director of Wagner Fire Safety Management Consultants in Dubai. “Everyone will be eager to criticize, but you can never say ‘never’. Every time something horrific (like this) happens, we have to learn from it and make improvements,” he added.
At present most malls in the UAE have their fire extinguishers replaced every six months and their sprinkler and smoke detector systems checked monthly, a report in The National, a UAE based newspaper, said.
Malls that break these rules first receive a warning, then a penalty from the Civil Defence Department.
“We don’t compromise on safety,” Munther Asad, head of facilities management at Marina Mall.
“In every store, employees are trained on the evacuation plan. They have fire extinguishers and they participate in fire drills.”
Malls are regulated by the Civil Defence Department and the municipality from design through to the construction phase, Abdulaziz Zurub, director of health and safety at the Dubai Municipality, said. He the newspaper that twice yearly fire drills were the minimum that mall management had to do.
However, Gary Brown, international business development manager, at Lightstep Technologies told The Big Project that one of the issues his company had identified in the GCC market was that there was a lack of focus on protecting the lives of the actual people in the building.
“With regards to life safety, companies specialising in fire safety technologies tend to focus on the actual assets, that is, the buildings themselves. We prefer to protect the actual people and the lives within that building,” he explained.
“Our goal is to educate the region on the latest developments in the market, and bring in the experience of others in the field to educate the local community.”